From despair to hope. That was the overriding theme of TanenbaumCHAT’s Chesed Solidarity Mission to Israel in early March, an immersive and intense experience aimed at helping students strengthen their Jewish identities, sense of Jewish pride and connection to the people of Israel.

Organized in partnership with the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, the packed itinerary for the group of 40 students and staff included meeting with many who were on the front lines on October 7: first responders, survivors, hostages who had been released subsequently, and refugee and bereaved families. The program also included attending a candle-lighting ceremony; coming together in prayer and song at Kikar Hachatufim (Hostage Square); volunteering with two different Israeli schools; and visiting the Kotel. As Principal Renee Cohen ’96, who led the trip, notes: “We attended a music concert on Motzei Shabbat to continue with our theme that on October 7, they tried to turn the music off, but we are here to say: the music plays on and we stand strong.”

Israel will always be at the heart of our school’s educational mission and so, upon their return, it was imperative to create an opportunity for these students to tell their peers about their experiences ba-aretz (see video below). Here are some of the reflections they shared in an assembly with the rest of our students.

Header photo: President Isaac Herzog in Beit HaNasi (the President’s House) in Jerusalem.

Top row, left to right: In the Florentin neighbourhood of Tel Aviv: graffiti tour of the “walls of hope” that depict the story of what happened on October 7 and some of the heroes from that day.

Visiting Rachel Ederi who was sitting shiva for her late husband, David z”l.

At Tel Hashomer Hospital, hearing from Maya Regev, a released hostage.

Bottom photos: Meeting with Israeli students from Yigal Alon High School in Rishon Le’Tzion, with whom our group also volunteered, picking broccoli at Leket Israel National Food Bank.

Sophie Sacks (Grade 12)
Our mission was emotionally difficult but filled with hope and strength. Even in a time of war and crisis, the people of Israel are united. They are joined in the understanding that Israel is our common ground, our powerhouse, and the variable that connects every Jewish person. The most prominent message we noted to bring back is to be proud to be Jewish even when people try to make us feel ashamed for it.

Austin Marer (Grade 11)
We met a woman who had lost her husband on October 7. Fighting tears, I asked her, “how are you so strong to not break down when we, who never even knew your husband, can’t find such strength?”. Her answer was, “My husband is dead now, but I bet you if I asked him how he wanted to go out, protecting his community, his family, and his beliefs, would have been his choice.” And at that point… I was fired up.

Mara Orenstein (Grade 11)
Each story we heard while visiting Ofakim represented a communal effort to defeat the violence. Each individual realized that leaning on each other was their only source of hope. While the hostages exist in silence, awaiting their longed-for release, we are the voices that must provide a heartbeat for them, a reason to keep breathing. We must dance for them. We must sing for them.

Dov Stein (Grade 11)
This was a mission to bear witness. We met Israelis from many walks of life who all had a story to tell about what they endured and are still enduring. This war is not over and, for many with loved ones still being held hostage in Gaza. It is an ongoing nightmare. My love for Israel and all its people has only increased after this trip and I feel a sense of responsibility to be part of the rebuilding of strength for our nation.

Sawyer-Li Landman-Daviau (Grade 12)
Coming home I knew that just because the trip was ending didn’t mean that our solidarity mission was over. We need to be the voice for those who have had their own stolen; scream for those who desperately want to but cannot. As I, and many of you, set off to university campuses or Israel gap years, take inspiration from these stories and always remember what it means when we say Am Israel Chai. 

Top row, left to right: A mural that was painted in Ofakim, the southernmost place that was hit hard by terrorists on October 7.

In Hostage Square meeting with Ella Belberman whose husband’s body is still being held in Gaza.

Speaking with an artist-participant at Yad Lakashish in Jerusalem.

Bottom photo: Shabbat in Jerusalem.

My anchor of hope is…

…that with Hashem’s help we continue to fight back with light, unity, and Jewish pride.”

Jaclyn Charlat (Grade 12)

…the unbreakable bond between the Jewish people; each of us is connected and will continue to protect one another eternally.”

Charley Levy (Grade 11)

…to feel the Israeli spirit full of strength and resilience keeping me hopeful for a better tomorrow for our homeland.”

Madelaine Elmaleh (Grade 11)

… that the love that I have for our Jewish homeland is universal, and that the world recognizes that we have a right to a place we can all call home.”

Ashley Cohen (Grade 11)